Grave Paths

While travelling through the British countryside, you may see a path or two with an odd name. Corpse road, Funeral road, Coffin line, Procession way… all served the same purpose: transporting the dead.

A sign leading to a Corpse Road Photo by Good Funeral Guide
A sign leading to a Corpse Road
Photo by Good Funeral Guide

When a population boom led to the expansion of the church in Great Britain, newly built churches were further away from their “Mother Churches” than ever before. Ministers at Medieval Mother Churches grew concerned over their potential loss of authority and revenue. The solution was to build roads.

A Corpse Road heading to Keld. Photo by Ken Crosby
A Corpse Road heading to Keld.
Photo by Ken Crosby

The rule was simple: only a Mother Church had the right to perform a burial. This command maintained control over the churches’ congregation. It also guaranteed a certain amount of revenue. However, this meant that parishioners were required to transport their dead across long distances through the countryside.

Coffin stones, like this one, were resting points for the coffin. Photo by Gordon Brown
Coffin stones, like this one, were resting points for the coffin.
Photo by Gordon Brown

Over time, the roads gained superstitions and myths of their own. These dirt paths were taken by spirits independently of bodies. The most interesting reference to this may be in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Puck describes spirits leaving their graves to take these very paths:

Now it is the time of night,
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide.

-Puck

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *